The Inspector General's report on the federal Energy Star program concludes that many of the touted benefits could not be verified.
Energy Star is a 16 year old voluntary program administered by the Energy Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that covers more than 50 product categories such as lighting, home electronics, office equipment, and home heating and cooling. The program establishes nationwide guidelines and uses a logo that identifies energy-efficient products.
The EPA Inspector General's audit, released December 17, is the latest report finding that voluntary, market-based programs relied upon by the current administration and several states have poor track records and do not produce reliable results, says Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER.
In 2006, for example, the program accounted for more than half of EPA's claimed contributions to greenhouse gas reductions but the Inspector General debunked those claims.
"We found the Energy Star program's reported savings claims were inaccurate and the reported annual savings unreliable," states the IG report.
"Deficiencies included the lack of a quality review of the data collected; reliance on estimates, forecasting, and unverified third party reporting; and the potential inclusion of exported items," the report explains.
Energy Star logo identifies products that are supposedly energy efficient.
In 2006, the Energy Star program reported avoiding a total of 37.6 million metric tons of carbon equivalent. It further reported that Energy Star helped prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from 25 million vehicles while saving Americans $14 billion on their energy bills.
But that claim did not stand up to the auditors' examination. "Sales of formerly qualified products are used to determine Energy Star's market transformation benefits, but we found that this benefit was computed inconsistently," says the Inspector General's report. "Also, the methodology used to compute the Energy Star commercial sector benefits uses unverified assumptions."
The Inspector General's Office recommended that EPA establish and implement improved quality controls, and develop and consistently apply a data-driven methodology to compute market transformation effects.
The agency should also "validate the model for calculating the benefits of the Energy Star commercial sector to ensure it accurately reflects the sector's impacts," the report advises.
The IG report was sent by Assistant Inspector General Wade Najjum to Robert Meyers, principal deputy assistant administrator in the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation.
"EPA disagreed with many of our conclusions, but stated it had implemented some of the recommendations," the IG report states.
"However, some of EPA's planned actions do not meet the intent of our recommendations, and we consider these recommendations open and unresolved," the Inspector General's Office says.
In September, "Consumer Reports" magazine published an Energy Star evaluation that found "lax standards and out-of-date test protocols that are not independently verified" weaken the federal program.
"The percent of products that qualify for Energy Star is increasing because standards are too easy to reach and federal test procedures haven't kept pace with new technology," the magazine states.
To qualify for an Energy Star logo, companies self-certify that their products comply with the standards. The Energy Department does not test products for compliance with Energy Star standards, and often there is no independent verification of what manufacturers report.
"These reports underline how hard it is to re-orient a massive economy away from dependence on carbon fuels," said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. "The danger for the Obama administration is that it, too, will embrace ineffectual market-based approaches as the least politically painful path."
Ruch warns that Obama's EPA Administrator-designate Lisa Jackson is the former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which produced the state's global warming plan. The plan relies heavily on the Energy Star program to achieve greenhouse gas reductions.
"The approach put forward by New Jersey earlier this month appears to repeat the same mistakes as those made by the Bush administration - heavy on aspiration but short on implementation," Ruch said. "It is one thing to set a goal but quite another to lay out a concrete plan that gets the job done."
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